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London is full of life and greener than many think.
  • Croydon schoolgirls' sign of the times

    A communities connection with local bird life is set to grow after pupils from Winterbourne Girls school in Croydon produced a bird board to be placed in their local park. Visitors to Thornton Heath Recreation ground in the north of the borough will be encouraged to identify the sights and sounds of the varied bird life in this urban green space. 

    Image courtesy of Paul Macy who helped coordinate the project

    With help from the RSPB and Croydon Voluntary Actions Family Power initiative, the girls have studied a wide range of birds and shared their learning with the wider community.

    Teacher Judith Hibbs who led the project is delighted by the girls work and the interest it has generated;

    ‘This project has been a wonderful way to engage the children's interest in their community since we use the park on a regular basis to walk to swimming and then to enjoy our healthy snacks in the community garden. They were thrilled to be able to learn more about "their" birds and then to identify some of them  on our field trip to compare the busy sounds and sights of Thornton Heath High Street with the peace in the park.  They were convinced that almost all of the thirteen birds we had described on the board were in the park on the day of the field trip!’

    The school hope to develop links further after a talk from RSPB volunteers to the girls which left them with lists of birds that the children can spot when they are at home or out and about and then send back to the local birdwatching group. The school also hope that visitors to the park will respond to the invitation on the bird board to tell the children (via the school website) if they have seen any other kinds of birds in the park. 

  • Dawn Chorus

    Another guest blog. This time, artist and sound sculpturist Marcus Coates on his recent Brighton show exploring the interplay between bird song and people, now bound for London in 2016:

    My Dawn Chorus exhibition at Fabrica in Brighton has come down now and it’s next showing at London's Wellcome Trust in 2016.

    Dawn Chorus is a celebration of birdsong and how we are connected to it in ways that aren’t obvious to us.

    In the exhibition you hear and see films of people singing the songs of birds very accurately.

    Marcus Coates recording original bird song in the field for his Dawn Chorus show.

    To show how this was done a choir performed the process live for an audience. While listening to slowed down birdsong through headphones they sang along to it. The noises they were copying were often difficult to replicate. They had to rethink how to sing, forgetting a scale of pure notes and instead exploring textures and sounds many of them hadn’t made with their voices before, like learning the sounds of a new language. 

    There was also a familiarity with these slowed down birdsongs, not just in the way they sounded but the messages they carried. A simple contact call of a coal tit when slowed down became like a wailing howl, not dissimilar to the cry of the wolf, a contact call itself. The blue tit alarm call when slowed down similarly revealed a sound we all recognise as ‘keep away’, much like a fierce dog growling.

    So next time you hear the birds in your garden, be aware that you are listening to the survival calls of the wild, the wolves are in the trees.

  • Brighton Festival. For the love of...Nightingales

    Our history and cultures are littered with nature references and so it's no surprise to find that this year's Brighton Festival has taken inspiration from the world around us.

    Musician and Brighton Festival star Sam Lee has written a guest blog all about his performances with NIGHTINGALES to share the joy he gets from nature. You can share the joy you get by joining our "For the Love of...." event in London on 17 June.

    Here's Sam's blog:

    Sam Lee

    For six short weeks around this time of year when the dusk turns to gloaming and the gloaming to dark, the land softens its throb and hustle and one of the most virtuosic singers the world has born takes to his lofty stage and commences a symphony sculpted in liquid so supple it intoxifies the spirit like a swig of crisp moonshine.

    But better that the moon doesn’t shine as legend tells us the Nightingales go shy around fulls. This spring however the lunar calendar has been consulted and Brighton Festival’s scheduled walks will be in the cover of the Downs darkest enclaves deep amongst the blackthorn where these dusky brown songsters salute to the skies. Above them passing females winding their way north from their Africa residencies are lured down by these well-landed avian bachelors.

    This rare and rather unspectacular looking bird is, as I always say, an African bird that flies to England for the summer. His song is too exotic, too magnificent, to agile and flirtatious to be British against the modesty of say a song thrush or skylark or even a skydiving snipe. Their dusk till dawn timekeeping is more of a Chicago blues bar busker full of hollers and croons and syncopated backbeats dancing, shuffling and diving. They are lonely canopy cowboys whooping a high lonesome chorus, reaching up and out in giddy pulses. Their heads arched back and proud projecting, throwing sound out across the landscape as would an imam, with prayers to the land, sonnets to the silent arenas of undulating hedgerows. This is nightingale time and I am daring to enter into a long tradition of bestial musical duetery but this time with an audience in tow.

    After a love affair with their singing a sample found its way onto an interpretation of the traditional song ‘The Tanyard Side’ I recorded a few years back. Many conversations with Brighton Festival ensued and subsequently an unexpectedly successful BBC R4 mini doc ‘Singing With The Nightingales’ aired last May to celebrate 90 years of outside broadcasting after Elgar’s favourite cellist Beatrice Harrison’s iconic duet with the birds made radio history.

    Sam Lee performing on stage with Omer Ihas

    Suddenly nightingales, which are today dropping in numbers at horrific rates, are very ‘Du Jour’ (or more accurately ‘Du Nuit’) and so this year, with an avian and migratory theme at the festival, the dream role has fallen on my shoulders to be the songful guide of six unique nocturnal safaris; to seek out some class singers and share in a symbiotic musical exchange other ancient folk songs I have gathered as a singer and song collector that speak of the land, of bird worlds and of the relationship that man has with nature. Some very special musical guests have also been invited to join these excursions and a promise of the most exquisite musical journey has been made. Who knows what will happen, who knows if they will sing. So far their artist contracts have not be signed or returned and with such delicate feathered beasts, as with all of nature, one can never be too sure what will happen.

    Sam Lee's Nightingale Walks will take place on Wed 13 - Fri 15, and Tue 19 - Thu 21 May, 9pm until late as part of Brighton Festival. For more information visit


    We are blessed to have nightingales in the south east of England, and who knows, maybe we'll get some venturing into London this year. We have one of the most important sites in the country for nightingales in Kent, which is currently under threat of development. Read more about our campaign to save the nightingales and the Lodge Hill sites other scarce wildlife here.